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Maximizing Citi ThankYou Rewards For Domestic Flights

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Citi ThankYou Premier, Citi ThankYou Preferred

Citi’s ThankYou Rewards program has gained a lot of value in the past year or so thanks to the addition of 13 travel transfer partners and the revamping of specific credit cards like the Citi ThankYou Premier Card. While we’ve covered how to maximize ThankYou points in the past, in this post, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen will talk about specific redemptions for domestic awards that can get you the most bang for your points.

Until recently, the three major transferable points programs were American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest. However, back in July 2014, the Citi ThankYou Rewards points program added eight new airline transfer partners, and has been bringing more on ever since, the latest being Virgin America just this past September. It has even offered transfer bonuses to some partners, including Etihad, Hilton, Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic.

Citi's ThankYou program is much more valuable now thanks to a dozen new transfer partners.
Citi’s ThankYou program is much more valuable now thanks to a dozen airline transfer partners.

Indeed, the program has improved so much that in his monthly valuations, TPG pegs the value of ThankYou points at 1.6 cents apiece thanks to those travel partners, and the value you can get when using points to book paid AA flights if you have Citi Prestige.

In addition to transferring points to partners, you can also redeem ThankYou points directly for airfare at a rate of 1.25 cents apiece. That rate jumps to 1.33 cents apiece in general and 1.6 cents toward American Airlines fares specifically if you have the Citi Prestige Card.

Before you redeem your points, though, check out these posts for more background information on the ThankYou Rewards program:

Transfer Partners

ThankYou Points transfer to 12 different airline partners as well as Hilton:

  • Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific)
  • EVA Air
  • Etihad Guest
  • Flying Blue (Air France/KLM)
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Qatar Airways
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Thai Airways
  • Virgin America (2:1)
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Hilton HHonors (1:1.5)

Associated Credit Cards

Citi offers three main personal credit cards that accrue transferable ThankYou Rewards points.

Citi Prestige: Currently offers a sign-up bonus of 40,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first three months of account opening. It earns 3 points per dollar on travel and hotel purchases and 2 points per dollar on restaurants and entertainment. Its annual fee is $450, but it offers a huge array of value-added benefits, including an annual $250 air travel credit, Admirals Club access, a Global Entry application fee waiver and your fourth night free at hotels.

Citi ThankYou Premier: The sign-up bonus recently dropped from 50,000 points to just 40,000 points when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. However, this card earns 3 points per dollar on travel including airfare and gas, 2 points per dollar on dining and entertainment and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Its $95 annual fee is waived the first year.

Citi ThankYou Preferred: This is the basic card in this family, and offers a sign-up bonus of 20,000 points after you spend $1,500 in the first three months.

Maximizing Domestic Awards

While we tend to cover over-the-top first-class redemptions to demonstrate the enormous value points can unlock, you can also get a good deal of value out of ThankYou points in particular on domestic (and yes, even coach!) travel. Here are a few of the best ways.

You can get some great values even just redeeming points directly for economy air travel.
You can get some great values even just redeeming points directly for economy air travel.

Direct Redemptions

Though there are other cards that earn points at a great fixed rate of 2% or slightly higher, including the Capital One Venture and Barclaycard Arrival Plus, you might still want to consider redeeming your ThankYou points directly for travel with the airlines for a few reasons.

First, you get a set rate of 1.25 cents apiece with the ThankYou Premier or 1.33 cents with the Prestige (1.6 cents on American with the Prestige). That equates to at least a 1.25% return on spending. However, because of the cards’ bonus merchant categories, if you’re spending a lot of money on travel, that brings your rate of return to at least 3.75%, and if you just maximize the restaurant and entertainment bonus categories, you’re still getting at least 2.5% back.

Not only that, but when you redeem points in this manner, you still earn airline award and elite-qualifying miles as normal because it’s just like buying a ticket and using your points for a statement credit toward the purchase.

Just to put all this in context, if you were to book a round-trip economy ticket in the US with any of the major legacy programs, it’ll generally cost you 25,000 miles (except in cases like AA’s reduced-rate redemptions for Citi cardholders, AA’s new 7,500-mile awards and United and Delta’s discount redemptions). Assuming you’d be getting at least 1.25 cents per point in value, your break-even point would be airfare that’s $312.50 or below. For fares above that, you’re better off transferring points and redeeming an award directly through the airline. But below that, you’re better off redeeming your ThankYou points directly for airfare.

That break-even point is more like $400 for ThankYou redemptions on American Airlines if you have the Citi Prestige card thanks to the higher conversion rate of 1.6 cents per point.

Redeem Flying Blue Miles on Delta to Hawaii

Fly Delta to Hawaii using Flying Blue miles instead of SkyMiles.
Fly Delta to Hawaii using Flying Blue miles instead of SkyMiles.

Since Flying Blue is the mileage program of Air France/KLM, you can use its miles to book awards on Delta. While some Flying Blue award redemptions – especially some premium cabin ones – are not such a great value, there is one shining little star in the Flying Blue award chart: It only costs 15,000 miles each way to fly from North America to Hawaii.

Here’s an example round-trip itinerary from Los Angeles to Honolulu on Delta using Flying Blue miles. It’s just 30,000 miles and $11.20.

Flying Blue lAX HNL

Delta would charge you 45,000 miles and $11.20 for the same itinerary.

Delta LAX HNL

You’re saving 15,000 miles, or 33%, by using Flying Blue miles instead! The same trip purchased outright would be about $418.

Delta LAX HNL 418

So your ThankYou points have a value of about 1.4 cents apiece in this instance. Not the most amazing value, but still not bad.

Singapore Airlines Miles on United North America and Hawaii Awards

Just because you're using Singapore miles doesn't mean you have to fly Singapore!
Just because you’re transferring to KrisFlyer  doesn’t mean you have to fly Singapore Airlines!

Another great Hawaii redemption possibility is using Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles on United from the US to Hawaii. While United will charge you 45,000 miles round-trip in economy and 80,000 miles in business/first class, per its award chart, Singapore will charge you just 35,000 miles round-trip in economy or 60,000 in business/first class.

Using Singapore miles to fly United makes a lot of for flights within North America and Hawaii.
Using Singapore miles to fly United for flights within North America and Hawaii.

Awards within North America are also a bargain, specifically in business class. Though both United and Singapore will charge you 25,000 miles round-trip for coach travel, it’s good to have Singapore miles in your back pocket in case you’re low on United miles.

Whereas United will charge you 50,000 miles for a round-trip business-class award like this one from Chicago to Orlando…

United ORD MCO

Singapore will charge you just 40,000 miles for the same award, a 20% savings!

Qantas Miles for Short-Haul Alaska and American Airlines Flights

Qantas is another transfer partner, but you can use its miles on American and Alaska.
Qantas is another transfer partner, and you can use its miles on American and Alaska.

In general, transferring ThankYou points to Qantas for partner redemptions isn’t a great idea. Qantas’s award chart has some extremely high redemption rates, especially on the long-haul and premium-cabin side of things.

However, because its award charts are distance-based, there are some decent values on the short-haul end of the spectrum. Not great, but decent. Here’s the chart for travel on American:

Qantas chart American

And here’s the travel chart for Alaska:

Qantas partner award chart

As you can see, the only real value in either is that 0-600-mile band where each way will cost you 8,000 points on American and 10,000 on Alaska.

While not strictly domestic, here’s an example of a great comparative redemption. If you wanted to travel from Miami to Grand Cayman on American, Qantas would charge you just 8,000 points each way.

QF AA MIA GCM

By contrast, American would charge you almost double – 15,000 miles!

And this one-way ticket would ordinarily cost $331.

AA MIA GCM 331

So your per-point value is pretty solid at 4.1 cents apiece.

With American, you’re also making off slightly better with economy and business-class redemptions on flights that are less than 1,200 miles. With Alaska, the chart is slightly less favorable, but it’s still possible to find some decent values.

The 211-mile flight from Seattle to Walla Walla, for instance, would normally cost you $188, or 25,000 miles (pretty abysmal, though you can snag a similar award for as low as 15,000 miles with off-peak travel).

Alaska SEA Walla
But at least Qantas would charge you just 20,000 miles instead.

QF SEA Walla

Use Virgin Atlantic Miles on Delta, Virgin America and Hawaiian Airlines

Though not a member of an alliance, Virgin Atlantic partners with Virgin America and Hawaiian Airlines in addition to Delta. While you can’t use Virgin Atlantic’s site to search for awards on these partners, but must call in instead, we can still look at some good values here.

Here is the airline’s award chart for Delta flights.

Virgin Atlantic Delta table

As you can see, the standout values that beat Delta’s own awards are its 45,000-mile business-class awards within North America (instead of 50,000), 40,000 miles (instead of 45,000) in economy and 75,000 miles in business (instead of 80,000) from the mainland US to Hawaii.

Here’s its award chart on Virgin America. The standout values here are on West Coast flights that start at just 10,000 miles in Main Cabin and 20,000 miles in first class round-trip!

Virgin Atlantic America chart

Even better (or at least more fun), Los Angeles to Cancun starts at just 20,000 miles round-trip in Main Cabin, 30,000 miles in Main Cabin Select and 40,000 in first class. It’s hard to compare apples to apples in this case since Virgin America’s awards are price-based and you’ll have to call into Virgin Atlantic to ascertain exact award availability, but there are sure to be instances where these amounts are well below those being charged by Virgin America. Especially when you consider that the transfer ratio to Virgin Atlantic is 1:1, whereas the ratio to Virgin America is 2:1.

Finally, another Hawaii redemption, in this case on Hawaiian Airlines itself. Hawaiian and Virgin Atlantic will both charge you 40,000 miles round-trip in economy and 80,000 in first class, but if you haven’t had a chance to rack up those HawaiianMiles, using Virgin’s miles can be a good idea as well.

Bottom Line

Though it takes a little bit of homework, there are some great domestic awards that are bookable using Citi ThankYou Rewards. However, it pays to price out partner awards and direct redemptions before committing to a points transfer to make sure you are maximizing the value of your points.

Citi Prestige® Card

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  • $250 Air Travel Credit each year, and receive a statement credit, up to $100 every 5 years, as reimbursement for your application fee for Global Entry or TSA Pre √®
  • 4th night hotel benefit for any hotel stay at hotels booked through the Citi Prestige® Concierge.
  • Earn 40,000 bonus points after $4,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open.
  • Points are redeemable for a $532 flight on any airline or $400 in gift cards.
  • Transfer points to a variety of travel loyalty programs from airlines to hotels.
  • Earn 3x points on Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 2x points on Dining at Restaurants and Entertainment
  • 1 ThankYou® Point per $1 spent on other purchases
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
N/A 15.49%* (Variable) $450 0% Excellent Credit